The helicopter had reached its weight limit and hovered for what seemed an eternity before ungracefully stirring enough sand to uncover a pyramid, then flew up and beyond the trees and towards the north. Meanwhile, a Twin Otter loaded to the gills with supplies taxied off the tarmac and buzzed into the grey skies. Snowmobiles by the dozen droned toward the white horizon after the turboprop disappeared, black dots in a white- and black-streaked background that is typical of the north on James and Hudson’s Bays.
The town, which was once a bustling, make-or-break type of village, active ’til sunrise, now echoed only the cry of a hungry dog or occasional back-up signal of a heavy truck. Lacking almost the entire population, the regular flight leaving for the south was almost empty due to a sudden surge of healthy people, leaving its main ticket, patients, to fend for themselves in the wild. Local stores were downcast with the cashier’s bored and wishful waiting for another customer, and echoed with dinging when she opened the empty register.
Exodus? Rapture? No. Spring goose break.
Aahh, the spring goose, so succulent when cooked just right, so coy at being lured into firing range, so plump from southern corn seed, so ingrained into Cree genes that it will take more than climate change to get rid of the school teacher’s greatest angst, the break that breaks the will to finish the final weeks of education, the annual Cree migration to the camp.
For many Cree, it is the rite of passage and the constitutional right to bear arms to carry out our traditional spring rites, to shoot the goose and eat it too. Traditions that surround firearms and are revered in the very fat of the animal that died from the lead of a hunter using a new gun whose barrel was lightly dabbed with goose grease in honour of its first shot and kill. Yes, the gun is steeped in tradition and respect, but now, with ammunition readily available by the case, as opposed to the old way of saving the spent shell and reusing it, the gun has evolved to an oft-dangerous weapon, a far cry from when a shot meant killing for food, not for violence.
But today, our tradition stays strong and from the young to old, novice or dead eye, it all comes down to this for all: hunt, shoot, kill, cook and eat the gander. To those from the south who are not hunting-oriented, it is more than buying a pre-packaged meal at the local supermarket; it is the total harvest, from following time-honoured goose boss rules to the rendering of the fat from the drip of a sigabon.
The annual break for the hunt is something that we all hold dear to our very existence, from the hard-boiled, sunburnt persistent goose blind occupant to the mother or googum who tends to your daily kill, we are all in this forever. And like our ancestors who wandered the land in constant search for food and survival, we have it good today. We can have our goose and eat it too. As for me, I have no intention in breaking the chain that I thrived on as a boy and a man. I will shoot as no man before, call and lure like I was a flock of hungry fowl, and barely carry my load back home.